It may be decades since the stories of James Herriot were on prime-time TV and in the bestseller lists, but, as Philip Sedgwick reports, the name still carries tourism clout

WITH a revamped World of James Herriot museum winning the Dalesman Rural Tourism Award for 2013 and a Herriot-themed B&B open in Askrigg, the tales about a 1930s' vet still play an important part in attracting tourists to the Yorkshire Dales.

It is now 35 years since All Creatures Great And Small first hit our screens. In the 1970s and 1980s it made North Yorkshire a television watcher's tourist destination long before Heartbeat or The Dales.

Based on books by Thirsk vet Alf Wight, 90 episodes and two feature films were made, and many residents still have vivid recollections of the filming.

Myra Shields, from Crakehall, had the associate producer for both films, Cecil Ford, staying at her holiday cottage. She recalls: "He asked if I wanted a part and I got £7 a day.

"After the first week, I baked for them. I made cream cakes, and I charged them the shop prices."

However, it was the television series, screened on BBC1 from 1978 until 1990, that really introduced the Yorkshire Dales to a worldwide audience.

The series opens with a youthful Christopher Timothy arriving at Finghall railway station, renamed RainbyHalt; he steps into Askrigg and marches up to Skelldale House.

Keith and Lisa Wright have run the shop in Askrigg for eight years; earlier this year, they opened Skelldale House as a bed and breakfast.

Mr Wright explained: "Skellade House is the most photographed building in the upper dale, and there is a still a real interest in all things James Herriot.

"We get visitors from all over the world, particularly the US, Australia, and Germany. Recently a man from Ireland posed outside with a stethoscope round his neck."

Bolton Castle provides a backdrop to several scenes.

Lord Bolton recalls being asked for some men to act as extras. He explained: "I asked two of our estate workers, Ray and Reg. They duly reported to be fitted out in some 1930s' style clothing but were told , 'There's no need to change - you're perfect'.

"I once went to Donald Sinclair's house, and Robert Hardy answered the door. It was surreal - I was expecting him and got his television character."

As the daughter of Alf Wight, retired Thirsk GP Rosie Page, as you would expect, knew many of the real life and screen characters.

Recalling what her father once confided in her, she said: "Dad didn't like meeting celebrities much. However, he did say that when he met the Queen she told him his were the only books that made her laugh out loud. He was always very proud of that. He also toned down Donald Sinclair's character, as no-one would believe it.

"It was odd seeing myself being portrayed in several episodes by my friend Gemma Ward."

John and Brigitte Rawnsey, having bought a house in Bisphopdale, were committed to allowing its use for filming. Mr Rawnsley said: "We had only just bought the house and a film crew arrived to film an episode called The Jackpot.

"In it, James Herriot comes to the door, and is called in by a mynah bird. Our dog Tim wouldn't move, so they left him in the scene. Every time Christopher Timothy knocked on the door he barked. It got a bit much after a while.

"Our neighbour had to wait in the field with his horse and cart and wasn't impressed as he'd waited all day for only a few seconds' filming.

"Christopher Timothy posed for a picture wearing his shorts, as it is in the storyline."

Christine Mawson, her late husband John and friend Gilly Knowles feature in an episode filmed at Spennithorne Church. She said: "Tristan - Peter Davison - fancied a girl in the choral society. We had to sing the same piece over and over again. I found it quite boring and told Robert Hardy, but he just laughed."

The series finally drew to a end with the 1990 Christmas special. A transformed Spennithorne became Darroby Primary School.

Wendy Griffin was the school's headteacher. She said: "We took the children to Grinton and had to stay in a cellar room until 8pm, it was murder. They used fake snow for scenes. We got £60 for our trouble, which I spent on new tables for a classroom.

"Peter Davison was really nice and played the recorder with the children, while Robert Hardy seemed slightly aloof. I thought Christopher Timothy and Linda Bellingham were both lovely."

One of the schoolchildren in the final episode was Jane Walker, of Leyburn, She remembered: "I had forgotten all about it and my husband Richard bought me the DVD, which was lovely and brought back wonderful memories."

Ian Ashton, of the World of James Herriot in Thisk, said: "There is a still a worldwide interest in the books, films and television series. We get visitors from all manner of places, mostly the US and Australia, but even as far as China, Chile, and Malaysia."

To find out more about the locations featured, the World of James Herriot has several publications for sale, or visit